Spiralling Inter seek second wind at Marseille

For Inter Milan, tomorrow's Champions League last 16 encounter with Marseille at Stade Velodrome represents an opportunity to rejuvenate a campaign that is unravelling at bewildering speed.

sports Updated: Feb 21, 2012 09:27 IST

For Inter Milan, Wednesday's Champions League last 16 encounter with Marseille at Stade Velodrome represents an opportunity to rejuvenate a campaign that is unravelling at bewildering speed.

Both sides enjoyed similar fortunes in their respective domestic leagues during the first half of the season -- starting poorly before rallying in the autumn -- but their paths have since diverged sharply.

Marseille's push for a top-three finish in Ligue 1 may have been stalled by draws in their last two outings, but they remain unbeaten since November 23 and are still competing on four fronts.

Inter's malediction is rather more severe.

Having won nine games out of 10 either side of Christmas to reinvigorate their bid for a Champions League place, Claudio Ranieri's side have hit the skids in recent weeks and have not won in six games in all competitions.

In Serie A they have taken one point from a possible 15 -- sliding to seventh place in the process -- and after a 4-0 mauling at Roma, their last two games saw them lose, at home, to second-bottom Novara and relegation-threatened Bologna.

Friday night's 3-0 reverse against Bologna was too much for president Massimo Moratti, who stormed from his San Siro seat 10 minutes before the end.

Moratti's sudden exit has perhaps inevitably prompted speculation about Ranieri's job security, but his opposite number at Marseille is expecting to face a different Inter in Wednesday's first leg.

"They're on a negative run but I know that on Wednesday I won't see the same team as the one I've seen in recent weeks," said Didier Deschamps, whose side sit fourth in Ligue 1 after drawing 1-1 at home to Valenciennes on Saturday.

"The championship is dead for them, so Wednesday is their objective. They won't solve their problems overnight, but they're an Italian team, so it's never straightforward."

A Champions League winner in 1996 with Juventus, who he later coached, Deschamps is well versed in Italian football and boasted a record of nine wins from 10 games against the Nerazzurri during his time in Turin.

Deschamps previously got the better of Ranieri when he led Monaco to a shock win over the Italian's Chelsea side in the semi-finals of the 2003-04 competition, but he is yet to take Marseille to the latter stages.

Eliminated by Manchester United at this stage last season, OM are bidding to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since they won the tournament in 1993, whereas Inter are in the last 16 for the eighth season running.

Inter's squad remains largely unchanged from the one that overcame Bayern Munich to claim the 2010 Champions League trophy under Jose Mourinho and Ranieri insists they have the temperament to turn their season around.

"Until Wednesday I will work on the compactness and pride of these great players who are suffering," vowed the 60-year-old, who succeeded Deschamps at Juventus.

"Sometimes it can hurt you to want something too much. All these defeats are hurting. We have the character but we must show it."

Inter's fortunes have not improved despite the return to fitness of playmaker Wesley Sneijder, star of the 2010 treble success, and Ranieri has hinted that the Dutchman may be left on the bench against Marseille.

Centre-back Walter Samuel and striker Diego Milito are both expected to return, however, after being rested against Bologna.

The hosts will be weakened by the absence of top scorer Loic Remy due to a hamstring injury, but holding midfielder Alou Diarra was due to resume training on Tuesday after injuring his big toe against Valenciennes.

The sides have met just twice before, in the quarter-finals of the 2003-04 UEFA Cup, when OM prevailed 2-0 on aggregate before eventually falling to Valencia in the final.

First Published: Feb 21, 2012 09:23 IST